The train ride to Takayama took us all morning. We left our hostel in Hiroshima at 6 am, and we didn’t reach Takayama until 1:30 in the afternoon.
This might have been the first time where Trevor and I arrived at our destination with absolutely no plan in mind. I kind of regretted this because had I done my research, I would have known that the rural village of Shirakawago, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, would have many of the local village homes lit up for just one night. I don’t know the reason, but it’s supposed to be quite beautiful. People come from all over Japan to see this event, and so of course, all of the hotels were fully booked. You could even stay in a farm house if you booked early enough.
Shirakawago is a solid hour bus ride from Takayama, so with the sun already starting its descent, I figured Shirakawago could wait until tomorrow. Trevor and I would explore a bit of Takayama before taking a different hour-long bus ride up through the hills to our hotel.
We found the Tourist Information office and I confessed to the person at the desk that I had no idea what I was doing in Takayama. She laughed and provided a map. There was a forest hike that sounded beautiful, but we didn’t have enough time, so I settled for two of my favourite things: alcohol and art.
First up, a sake brewery that had just recently opened to the public. This wasn’t nearly as cool as I thought it would be. We didn’t get to actually see sake being made. Instead, a woman took me down a hallway to a bunch of signs, explained a bit about how sake is made. Then we went further down the hallway to a few other signs, where she explained a bit more about how sake is made. I was given a sample shot, and that was the end of the tour. I suppose I can’t complain, since the tour was free.
Sake is made from fermented rice. The rice is “polished”–that’s the word the guide used–in order to remove all of its nutrients. In quality sake, the polishing shrinks the rice down to less than 50% of its original size.
Once it’s been polished, it gets the sauna treatment and is steamed for God knows how long so that it can then be fermented. During the fermentation process, a rice fungus called Koji is introduced. The combination of the starch from the rice, the fungus, glucose, and our dear friend, yeast, produces alcohol.
The mushy rice that is produced is then pumped through some huge machine, which spits out sake and something called sake cake.
At least, this is what I think my guide said. Hopefully I got all of that right.
Once the tour was over and we returned to the main entrance, I looked around to see if I wanted to buy some sake. Instead, the sake cake grabbed my eye. It looked like a square tortilla, so my mouth immediately started watering.
After I paid, my guide came up to me and offered me a piece of paper. She explained that this was a recipe for how to use the sake cake to make a sweet drink called azakaya. Concerned, I asked, “So I can’t eat this?”
She explained that you can, but you have to cook it first. I immediately regretted my purchase. I wanted to return it, but I felt embarrassed for some reason, so I just walked out with it.
Trevor laughed at me the whole way as we walked to the folk museum a couple blocks away.
The museum also proved to be a dud. There were very few signs with English, so we just walked around and looked at all of the stuff. The front of the house was meant to look like what the house would have looked like during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The place defines folk art as:
In the back, rooms held everything from toys to instruments, books, cards, combs, candles, clothing, sandals, and lanterns.
Back in the day, this place was a candle and pomade shop. They used pomade to style their hair.
It was going to start getting dark soon, and Trevor and I felt like ending the day early, since we’d had a long journey in the morning, so we headed back to the bus stop.
The drive up the winding roads through the hills was just as gorgeous as the train ride had been. There are few things more beautiful than trees coated with a healthy sprinkling of snow. Those tall, thin magnificent beasts just melted my heart. They looked like sugar-coated sweets.
By the time we reached our hotel, it was already dark. We grabbed some udon noodles and a beer just down the street, did some blogging, and took a dip in the outdoor onsen before calling it a night.
The onsen was quite nice. Large rocks were placed here and there, and a waterfall poured off of a very large rock. The receptionist had told me that you could actually drink the water that fell from the waterfall, but I didn’t want to try it. I’m going to miss these freaking onsens. There really is no better way to end the day.